Can Intermittent Fasting Really Boost Your Health?

James Logie

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Is fasting still a hot topic, or a fad?

The ancient practice of fasting has some real scientific support to it as far as its ability to improve your health, help you lose weight, and build muscle.

But can it fit into your modern lifestyle?

This will be a quick rundown on all things intermittent fasting, and if it’s worth paying attention to.

The Importance of Fasting Through Human History

The concept of fasting has been around for pretty much as long as we’ve been around. It is avoiding certain, or all foods, for an extended period. Usually 24 hours or more.

Fasting has a connection to most religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity. It can be symbolic in that you are letting nothing impede your faith.

We also use it as a period of cleansing. Whatever the reason, it is something that many still practice today and you take part in every day too.

We get the term “breakfast” from “breaking the fast” of the time you’ve spent sleeping. Depending on when you last ate, you may fast from 8 hours up to as much as 14.

So What Is Intermittent Fasting?

IF is based around fasting but more about the later part of the day including when you sleep.

The most popular way is the 16/8 split. With this split, you fast for 16 hours a day with an eating window of 8 hours. It can also be altered to a 14/10 split.

There are a few other ways to do IF but let's look at how this works.

You may think that not eating for as long as 14–16 hours isn’t possible, and it freaks you out.

But if you remember the idea that every night you are fasting for at least 8 hours, it’s not as bad as it seems.

If you have your last meal around 8 pm, go to bed at 10:30, get up at 8, then have the first meal at 12 — it’s only 6.5 hours of waking time not eating. And it actually gets pretty easy to do.

I imagine you don’t wake up and immediately have breakfast the second your eyes open. And the idea of breakfast is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Breaking the fast doesn’t mean you have to have corn flakes and orange juice first thing, it’s relating to the time you eventually eat to “break the fast.” That may be 8:30 am or it might not be till 11.

The Origins of “Breakfast” as We Know It

When you think “breakfast,” I’m sure the first thing that pops to mind is cereal.

One of the main issues with breakfast being quite overrated has to do with the influence of advertising and manufacturers telling us what and when breakfast should be.

You can thank Kellogg's for that.

Our idea of a “balanced breakfast” seems to have more to do with the cereal companies, and their need for profit over our health.

The other issue is foods commonly associated with breakfast are not the healthiest thing. They are more like desserts.

If you look at “breakfast foods” like high sugar cereal, pancakes, waffles, muffins, juices, etc you’re taking a massive sugar shot first thing.

That sends your blood sugar skyrocketing, which leads to the inevitable crash and the cravings not long after.

Do you notice how you get light-headed and hungry around 10–11 am after a sugary breakfast?

Fat Burning & Insulin Sensitivity

So that’s the 16/8 or 14/10 version. The great part is you don’t need to really worry about calories or the number of meals.

As long as you are basing your meals around real whole foods, you only need 2–3 meals a day.

You can eat until you’re pretty full because when it all adds up, you’re taking in fewer calories during the eating window compared to a normal full day of eating.

Normally when you eat, it takes a few hours to digest and store food. With glucose in your system from food, it has a lot of available energy — and your body is not in an ideal fat-burning mode.

When you’re fasted, the body doesn’t have available glucose to pull for energy and potentially uses stored body fat instead.

That’s what body fat is, it’s a reserve fuel tank.

The other great benefit that comes from this fasting period is there may be increased insulin sensitivity. Insulin is secreted when we eat and the more sensitive we are to it, the better our body is at using that food.

When you become insulin resistant, your body may be less effective at using and storing food. Your body may also have to keep producing more and more insulin as it becomes resistant.

This may lead to the pancreas burning out and type 2 diabetes.

Since the fasting period is creating better insulin sensitivity, it means your body may be even better at using and processing the food when you eat. This may lead to weight loss and new muscle.

Exercise as well is a great way to improve insulin sensitivity, so when you combine the two, you create a great one-two punch.

Is Intermittent Fasting a More Natural Way of Eating?

The idea of 6 meals a day is not an ideal scenario for us. Our bodies do better when they’re not eating all the time because of that insulin issue.

If you’re eating every few hours, it’s not necessarily raising your metabolism, but raising your blood sugar because of all the food that’s consumed.

With insulin levels always high, it makes it tougher to burn body fat. Insulin resistance is also not too far around the corner.

Our ancestors were not walking around eating every 2–3 hours, they were eating only a couple of times a day — and it definitely wasn’t low-calorie Oreo snack packs and Special K.

There are some good studies that point out how more frequent meals may not promote greater weight loss.

Intermittent Fasting and Exercise

This is a big reason many people have undertaken IF: there may be a natural hormone boost and fat loss aspect that comes from it.

On workout days, your food choices can contain some more carbs from sources like brown rice or sweet potatoes.

On non-workout days you want to cut the calories down a bit, and lowering carbs is a good way to do this.

On non-workout days, you also want to bump up the fat intake from sources like grass-fed beef, olive oil, avocados, etc.

Protein intake will be a decent amount on all the days.

Remember, you’re only eating 2–3 meals a day so they will contain a lot. You might find yourself more full than usual, even though you’re only eating for 8–10 hours.

Other Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting

Besides the 16/8 method, there is also what’s known as the eat-stop-eat method.

It involves an actual fast of 24 hours done once or twice a week. You would do this for example by not eating from dinner of one day until dinner of the next day.

There is also the 5:2 diet where you only eat 500-600 calories on two separate days of the week, say Monday and Friday.

You then eat normally for the other 5 days. You always want to check with your doctor before taking on any type of fast.

What Are The Other Health Results From IF?

One of the big issues has to do with HGH, aka human growth hormone. We hear about HGH because of sports, but your body makes its own natural supply.

HGH builds muscle but is also important for fat loss and may have an anti-aging effect.

Fasting may have a positive effect on HGH and IF may really help as part of a fitness/muscle-building program.

Fasting Helps in Cellular Repair

When you fast, your cells start a cellular repair process, the cells remove and digest old dysfunctional proteins that have built up inside the cells.

It’s kind of like when you run one of those fuel injector cleaners through your gas tank that cleans out corrosion and built-up deposits.

Consider fasting like a spring cleaning for the cells. But with less hay fever…

Is Intermittent Fasting the Best Choice?

I’m not sure when intermittent fasting got into the forefront of the nutrition world.

It might be the fact that celebrities got on board with it. Hugh Jackman does it, as does Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Intermittent fasting is definitely not for everyone. If you are diabetic or have blood sugar issues, it might not be the greatest fit.

For women, hormone levels need to be taken into consideration.

As usual, this is always something to discuss with your doctor.

Research suggests that the fasting period may affect males and females differently. Women may to do better from shorter fasting periods, and fewer fasting days.

The focal point with IF is to focus on real, whole foods. It doesn’t do much good if your feeding period is full of terrible calories.

You may get a little more leeway — especially after a workout — when your body is more able to handle higher glycemic items.

And there is the improved insulin sensitivity, but remember to keep things in moderation.

Final Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting.

As I mentioned there is a lot of great information and studies becoming available about intermittent fasting.

Use this article as a jumping-off point and continue to do your own research. And as always, discuss any type of health changes with your doctor first.

I really see intermittent fasting becoming a bigger component of the health and fitness space, and I’m sure more and more information and insights will become available.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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